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Gun range in state forest? Candidates say ‘No’

August 8, 2018

Not much unites Republicans and Democrats vying for the state’s top offices, but a 113-acre parcel of land bordering a pristine state forest has done just that.

Statewide and legislative candidates from both parties made the trek to Buttonwood Farm in Griswold on the eastern end of the state Tuesday to oppose a gun range for state police training at an event hosted by the advocacy group, Save Pachaug Forest.

“Over my dead body is this gun range going in Griswold,” said Republican Tim Herbst, who has garnered significant support from the eastern side of the state. “It defies common sense that they would construct a state police training facility that services all 910 troopers in one of the most remote areas of the state. When I become governor and I find out who approved the sale of this property. They’re going to be fired so fast their heads are going to spin.”

State officials revealed in March they signed a purchase agreement in August 2017 with property owner Lee Button for $1.1 million for the 113-acre former farm for to build a new state police firearms training facility. The land borders Pachaug State Forest, the largest in the state, and the private Mystic Rod & Gun Club. The nearest home is more than half a mile away, according to a state report.

In May, senate Democrats unanimously voted against a bill that would have required the property become part of the state forest, effectively moving the gun range elsewhere.

Pam Patalano, chairman of Save Pachaug Forest, said she organized the event after attending several debates and forums featuring candidates in both parties and not once hearing mention of the eastern side of the state.

“We’re fighting the gun range, obviously, but at the same time, we need to focus on tourism and economic development,” Patalano said. “My feeling was that we want to hear what they have to say. Sure, we don’t want the gun range, but what are you going to do for us?”

Opponents to the gun range are also concerned about the impacts on tourism in the area. Pachaug is the largest forest in the state forest system, and draws thousands of visitors annually to its backpack and horse camping sites.

Republican David Stemerman, who shuttered his multi-billion dollar hedge fund to run for governor, was among those who ventured out into the 90-plus degree heat to criticize the plan.

“I’ve seen a lot of strange and dysfunctional things since I left my business and started doing this,” Stemerman said Tuesday at Buttonwood Farm. “This is one of the strangest, most dysfunctional things I’ve ever seen. Who wants to come to a state forest and hear gun shots?”

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who joked he went out to pick up milk and ended up in Griswold, said he too opposes the gun range. Rather than build a new facility, he said, the state should utilize already existing ranges for training.

“Not now, not tomorrow, not ever,” he said. “We have a perfectly good range owned by the federal government in East Haven, Connecticut, that can be utilized by our state troopers.”

Madison Republican Bob Stefanowski did not attend the event, and Patalano said he was unaware of the proposed gun range when she invited him. Stefanowski issued a statement opposing the gun range via email during the event.

Local Democrats running for seats in the state legislature also turned up to oppose the gun range, but statewide Democratic candidates were noticeably absent.

Ned Lamont, the endorsed Democratic candidate for governor, came out to forcefully oppose a gun range in Griswold in early July after meeting with Patalano. Lamont said he supports a new facility, but is strongly against the Griswold location.

Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, who is challenging Lamont in the August 14 primary, is in the minority. He sided with the family that sold the property and said last month, “it seems to make sense.”

Art Linares, a Republican candidate for state treasurer, who is famously married to Democratic sate Rep. Caroline Simmons, was in awe of the bipartisan turnout at Buttonwood Farm.

“When that happens, it’s amazing how fast we can put a stop to something,” Linares said.

kkrasselt@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2563; @kaitlynkrasselt

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